August 2, 2020

Rangers unsung heroes: Jan Erixon, Mr. Extra Effort

Jan Erixon (Getty Images)

If you’ve been following my work here at Forever Blueshirts, the number one independent site for all things New York Rangers, you have more than likely read a plethora of articles pertaining to players I refer to as “Ranger Royalty.”

Our loyal and valued readers surely are well aware of the accomplishments of superstars like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Richter, Rod Gilbert et al.

Today we will be starting a new series singing the praises of athletes who Rangerstown has grown to adore. These guys are not your typical household names, but they played a huge role on Broadway.

Jan Erixon, the Rangers first Steven McDonald Award winner

Jan Erixon, from Skelleftea, Sweden was the inaugural recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in 1988. That’s because every night he was given the daunting task of shadowing the game’s best players and most prolific goal scorers.

From 1983 through 1993, Jan was the thorn in the side of the game’s best. It was not uncommon for an NHL roster during the 1980’s to have 50, 60 even 70+ goal scorers on their squad and as we know, the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky would commonly surpass triple digits in points by the All Star break.

Erixon had the merciless and thankless vocation of shadowing players like Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Dale Hawerchuck and other upper echelon stalwarts who routinely, with ease, topped the 100 point plateau. Erixon was more than just a checker, chipping in with occasional offense, tallying 216 points in 556 NHL games. All with the Rangers.

Jan Erixon put the heavy lifting of defense on his back

The persistent wear and tear of spending the majority of his playing time defending the NHL’s highest skilled players took its toll on Erixon. Debilitating back issues forced #20 to miss dozens and dozens of games throughout his stint on Broadway and would eventually force Jan to retire from the NHL following the 1993 season.

On a personal note, as monumental and life-changing as June 14th, 1994 was, not seeing Jan Erixon and Mike Gartner celebrating on the Garden ice was a bit bittersweet. If there was any long-time Ranger player deserving of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup towards the heavens on that glorious late spring evening 26 years ago, it was the unheralded, undervalued and under appreciated Swedish forward. After all, trying to keep the likes of Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull and Denis Savard off the scoreboard in those days, was like trying to keep the ocean back with a broom.

Jan Erixon, a Rangers unsung hero

Jan Erixon deserves more praise than he ever got while playing. In the high scoring days of hockey, he was what coaches called a shadow. Assigned to one player all game. He drove Mario Lemieux and others nuts.

Jan Erixon’s playing career as a New York Ranger was cut short by injury, and he missed out by one season of being a Stanley Cup champion. For those who appreciate the defensive side of the game and the team sacrifice of individual players, no one is more deserving of recognition. So it is very fitting that our initial article about unheralded Rangers be about the embodiment of such a topic.

TORONTO, ON – APRIL 15: Jan Erixon #20 of the New York Rangers turns up ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on April 15, 1992 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Graig Abel/Getty Images)

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